Budget Travel answered your travel questions
Budget Travel Editors: Thanks for joining us. Let's get to your questions!
Birmingham, Alabama: My husband and I will be celebrating our 20th anniversary in October. We would like to go to Ireland for a week, but don't know where to begin. This will be a very big trip for us--my husband was laid off just before our 10th anniversary, so we didn't celebrate that milestone, and we'd like to make this one perfect! We'd like to travel around by car and love the idea of staying in bed and breakfasts. What cities should we plan to visit? What will the weather be like? How much should we plan to spend? When should we begin making reservations or plans? Thanks so much for helping us plan a dream!
Budget Travel Editors: Ireland in October can be lovely...All the summer crowds are gone and prices have gone down. It sounds like you and your husband are the perfect candidates for an Ireland B&B package, which generally combines airfare, a car rental, and vouchers good at more than 1,000 B&Bs across the country. You can plan ahead and choose exactly where you want to go each night, or wing it as you drive along, stopping wherever takes your fancy. Since this is a special occasion -- a big trip, as you say -- I'd suggest splurging on at least one night at a castle. (To avoid any disappointment, I would book that night well in advance.) We published a terrific article about Ireland B&B packages in our December/January issue. It explains exactly how these packages work, gives advice on how to book, and lists the names and websites of companies that offer them. You'll find it here.
Celina, Texas: I am traveling to Whistler, BC for work in late May. My husband, 3 year old daughter, and 64 year old mother will join me at the end of the conference. I anticipate that we will stay May 27-June 2. We are considering spending a few days in Whistler then the remaining in Vancouver. What activities can you recommend for a three year old? She has recently expressed interest in taking a train ride. Are there any scenic trains in the area? Any other kid friendly recommendations would be greatly appreciated.
Thanks for your assistance!
Budget Travel Editors: Vancouver has many kid-friendly activities. Stanley Park, located in the heart of downtown, has over 1,000 acres of native trees, plants, and wildlife. It contains the Vancouver Aquarium (vanaqua.org), a fun place to spend an afternoon. There's also a children's water park, children's farmyard, miniature train, and more. More park information is at city.vancouver.bc.ca.
Vancouver is also home to the second-largest Chinatown in North American, and it's a convenient 10-minute walk from downtown. Sun Sui Wah (3888 Main St., 872-8822, sunsuiwah.com) has great Hong Kong-style dim sum. More information: vancouverchinatown.ca
Because a number of Alaskan cruises depart from Vancouver, there are many train routes designed for tourists interested in a short pre- or post-cruise trip. Check out the scenic train trip packages at whistlermountaineer.com, vacationsbyrail.com, or Canada's national rail service, viarail.ca.
Fairfax, VA: I am leaving out of San Diego on April 22nd for a 7 day cruise. I have never been to San Diego and wondering if it is worth it to spend several days there before the ship pulls out of port? Any info on things to see,hotels near the port, good places to eat, will a rental car be necessary,advice on ship to shore transfers ect.? Thanks
Budget Travel Editors: A major naval base with seventy miles of beachfront and a rich Spanish-Mexican heritage, San Diego is booming and definitely worth a few days. Head straight to the revitalized Gaslamp Quarter for boutiques, restored Victorian buildings, and many of the best and trendiest restaurants. You'll find sophisticated Mexican dishes at Candelas, Moroccan lamb skewers and Mediterranean/fusion at the Solamar Hotel's Jsix, and splurge-worthy seafood at the legendary Star of the Sea right on the water (its adjacent restaurant makes a cheaper alternative). Explore Little Italy and Balboa Park, home of the world-class San Diego Zoo, a cluster of museums, lily pond, and the Spreckels Organ Pavilion, where you can catch a free concert on Sunday afternoons. The sprawling red-roofed Hotel del Coronado, made famous in Gene Wilder's Some Like It Hot, is just a short ride across the San Diego-Coronado Bay Bridge. A trolley tour can take you there, too. The city's downtown is walkable and cabs, including popular pedi-cabs, are common; a car rental isn't necessary unless you want to venture off to places such as La Jolla.
Kaneohe, HI: What time of year is it BEST to visit South Africa for animal
Budget Travel Editors: The best time of the year to see animals in South Africa is May-Aug, when the leaves are (mostly) off the trees. Scenery is not as lush, but since things are drier, the risk for malaria goes down during this time too.
Modesto, CA: What is the best time of year to fly to Barbados, as far as air and hotel prices go? There two of us traveling and we are flexible. We have the option of flying out of San francisco, Oakland, San Jose or Sacramento. Thanks.
Budget Travel Editors: The best time of the year to fly to Barbados for reduced rates on air and hotel is Aug.-Oct., which is generally considered hurricane season in the Caribbean. Since Barbados lies outside of the hurricane belt, it's rarely affected by the region's seasonal bad weather. In fact, it hasn't had a hurricane hit its shores in over 50 years. However, Barbados does suffer by association, and therefore discounts airfares and hotel rates to lure skittish travelers, who, in reality, have nothing to worry about. Barbados is a smart choice. One warning: it's very hot that time of year.
Tiburon, Ca: I am trying to plan a trip for my 15 1/2 year old son and me to study Spanish for about 2 weeks during August. I would like it to be reasonable and safe. It would be fine if we boarded in with families seperately in order to get more experience with Spanish. We don't eat meat, poultry nor shellfish so our hosts would need to understand that before we arrived. It would be great if we could do some volunteer work while we are in the school.Could you advise me as to the most reasonable school, flights and side trips? I have an MSW and would like to improve my Spanish for work. I understand that some schools give discounts to social workers.
Budget Travel Editors: I would recommend looking into schools in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. You can take one class, or spend your entire day learning Spanish. Here's a link to school listings.
The Spanish colonial town is accustom to foreigners, and has a nice blend of local Mexicans, expats, students and travelers. It's quite safe, plus it's small enough so that you can pretty much walk almost anywhere. I know that the school does place students, if they want, with families. One of the great things about Mexico is that there are plenty of non-meat dishes available for vegetarians, and you'll love the fruit and vegetable markets. If you're interested a school and want to go, I'd suggest looking into flights to Leon first (American and Continental fly there), and second to Queretaro, which is closer, but since the airport is newer, it doesn't have as many flights, and the ones they do have tend to be more expensive. As for sidetrips, check out: the colonial city of Guanajuato, one hour away, Pozos, a revitalized mining (ghost) town, and the hot springs on the outskirts of town. In terms of volunteering, you can donate your time at the library, Biblioteca. Last I knew English speaking volunteers teach English informally in the central courtyard. And, there's a bulletin board there with all kinds of postings, including volunteer opps.
Concord, CA: I have two travel books on Miami/Florida as we are leaving on a cruise in June from Miami. We are traveling with our two girls, 12 and 15. I still can't figure out where to stay that's budget friendly, yet fun for kids their age or even what to do in Miami besides hit the beach. Got any ideas? How about the Keys? Best ones to spend a night at and where? Thanks.
Budget Travel Editors: At risk of over-tooting our own horn, I'd suggest checking out our Miami Snap Guide.
We list nine great budget properties, plus there are listing of fun places to eat and play, like Parrot Jungle Island, the Venetian Pool, or crafts market on Espanola Way.
Newark, NJ: I'm planning to go to Prague for the first time by myself. When is the best time to go to avoid the crowd? I'm also looking for the either the package or separate air and hostel. Any suggestions? Thx
Budget Travel Editors: Much like the rest of Europe, Prague is busiest during the summer months of June, July, and August. If you're looking to save some cash--and enjoy the city virtually tourist-free--visit in springtime when the tourist crowds have yet to pack the city's charming cobblestone streets. In April, Gate 1 Travel has a six-day Prague vacation from $869 including roundtrip flights from New York (800/682-3333, gate1travel.com). Explore the Prague Castle and stroll across the Charles Bridge all for under $150 a day (with airfare!). If a hostel sounds more up your alley, be sure to visit hostelworld.com, a listing of low-cost accommodations around the world.
Noank, CT: My fiance and I are planning our honeymoon on the French Riviera during the week of May 1-8. It looks as though renting an apartment would give us more room for less money; but we can't find the kinds of traveler reviews for apartments that are common for hotels. Do you know of a site that has reviews, or can you recommend a reputable broker--or better yet, can you recommend apartments in the area from Nice to Cannes? We want a terrace with a great view, walking distance to some restaurants, shops, etc., and a total cost under $1,000 for the week. Possible?
Budget Travel Editors: One of the best places to look for inexpensive apartment rentals is Vacation Rentals By Owner (vrbo.com). The site lists over 48,000 rental homes across the globe--from ski condos in Vail to one-bedroom flats in London--all offered directly by the people who own them. Not only can you read the comments of people who've stayed at each property, but you'll avoid costly broker fees along the way. Check in daily because prices and properties change often--as of today, there were eleven apartments listed in the French Riviera. If you strike out there try greatrentals.com, another website that rents apartments by owner.
Trumbull, CT: Two of my girlfriends and I (mid-late 30s Moms, also known as M&Ms) are planning a trip to NYC on 4/6/06 - 4/9/06. We are looking for the best places to shop for high quality, extremely discounted clothing and shoes as well as a great jazz destination with national acts. Also would like a few "can't miss" ideas for restaurants and other things off of the beaten path. Thanks so much for your help!!
Budget Travel Editors: Sounds like a fun, well-deserved M&Ms getaway! And once again our ever-expanding Snap Guide collection will come in handy. The New York City guide is packed with insider tips (look for the section on tackling sample sales). Heavily discounted designer clothes and shoes can be found at mammoth stores such as Century 21, Designer Shoe Warehouse, and LoftWorks. SSS Sample Sale (261 W. 36th St., 2nd Fl.) hosts sample sales for Ben Sherman, Theory and other hip designers frequently; check New York magazine's sale list before you travel for up-to-date listings. If you're willing to sacrifice some quality, you can snag knockoff goods for next to nothing in Chinatown (Mott St. is the main drag) or ceramic dishes, slippers, and all sorts of Chinese knick-knacks at the multi-level Pearl River Mart. The buzzy cobblestone Meatpacking District is crowded with trendy restaurants and nightclubs; try Spice Market for a high-end twist on Southeast Asian street food, Highline for Thai, or Florent for French bistro fare. As for jazz, there are a wealth of options--Arthur's Tavern, Jazz at Lincoln Center, Blue Note, Jazz Standard, Village Vanguard. If you're interested in other genres, we recommend the Amato Opera as an intimate, mom-and-pop affordable alternative to the Met and Café Sabarsky for cabaret. A few more suggestions: a lesson at the Trapeze School, a treatment at Koreatown's fabulous Juvenex Spa, a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge followed by a treat from Jacques Torres Chocolate.
On a final note...you seem like perfect voters for our current Girlfriend Getaways poll: what famous woman would make an ideal travel mate? Make your choice and check back this spring for a special Budget Travel issue devoted to planning a Girlfriend Getaway.
Newnan, Georgia: What is the best way to find an apartment to rent in London, June 23 - July 3, 2006 for four adults and two children.
Budget Travel Editors: There are a few good resources for finding condo rentals abroad, and getting started early is a good idea--especially since London is pricey! In a quick search on Vacation Rentals by Owner (vrbo.com) I turned up a Central London apartment with two bedrooms, a bunk area (perfect for the kids!) and two bathrooms, beginning at £650 per week ($1,150). cyberrentals.com is another good site that lets you deal directly with property owners. A two-bedroom apartment that sleeps up to six people costs £450 per week ($795) for rentals from March through July. Both sites are pretty consistently updated, and since you're dealing directly with the property owners, there is often some room for negotiation.
Budget Travel Editors: Thanks for all your great questions.